The perfect night

DJ Pauly D and Drake Bell join Pennsbury seniors for “Destination Prom”

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Senior success: Nearly 1,000 teens attended Pennsbury’s “Destination Prom,” which transported them to exotic locations around the world. Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

The rain may have dampened quite a few hairstyles, but it didn’t put a damper on the Pennsbury Prom.

On the evening of Saturday, May 19, Pennsbury security was armed with umbrellas, tasked with making sure what Reader’s Digest and Seventeen deemed the “best prom in America” went on as planned … despite inconveniently timed downpours.

At 5:15 p.m., loved ones huddled together under tents set up along the connecting road between PHS East and West for the highly-anticipated prom arrival parade. For two hours, the students rode past in antique cars, elaborately decorated floats and even a Cinderella-esque horse and carriage as proud parents cheered them on.

Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

Though most glittering heels and expensive dress bottoms were soaked within seconds of stepping off the floats, the students, which totaled nearly 1,000, were all smiles as they walked the red carpet, ready for the most exciting night of their high school careers.

Upon entering the two-story lobby of PHS East, 705 Hood Blvd. in Fairless Hills, prom-goers were instantly transported to the beaches of Hawaii. Featuring a 12-foot waterfall, colorful seating areas reminiscent of a beachside hut, and motion-sensored talking tiki heads that heckled people as they passed by, it was easy to forget you were in a school.

Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

This was the case for the entire first floor, with each hallway (and bathroom) highlighting locations from around the world for this year’s theme, “Destination Prom.” The student dining room was turned into a retro travel agency, the gymnasium featured a wall-length Hollywood sign and larger-than-life Oscar Award, and one hall was packed with a rendition of the Stonehenge rock formation.

According to Pennsbury father Terry Poulton, the brains behind the Hawaii setup, planning began in October, with parents, students and staff assigned to the design of different portions of the school. Poulton has been involved in the decorating process for five years, leading efforts in the lobby for the past two.

“It’s probably the best I’ve seen the lobby look,” he said, putting one last adjustment on the waterfall. “Next year’s theme we’ll know by the end of the week.”

Post-parade festivities officially kicked off at 7:30 p.m., with activities and entertainment taking place throughout the school. Whether a student was the life of the party or more reserved, there was something to suit all interests. In the auditorium, a handful of musically-inclined teachers, rightfully named The Faculty Band, played oldies such as “I Love Rock and Roll” and “My Girl” as their audience sang along. In the gym, top 40 music blasted from the speakers as students took to the fog-filled dance floors, the faces of onlooking chaperones screaming, “I’m too old for this.”

At 7:45 p.m., everyone gathered in the gym for the crowning of the prom king and queen, Isaiah Dixon and Jordan Hughes. Co-principal Reggie Meadows also paid a special tribute to Pennsbury senior Kyle Valdez, who passed away earlier this year. The 18-year-old Falls Township resident was named honorary prom king.

“He’s here with us tonight,” Meadows told the students.

Following the brief ceremony, shrill screams of excitement erupted from nearly every female in the gym — Drake Bell, star of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh, had taken the stage as the first entertainer of the evening. Now 31, Bell doesn’t look much different from the rambunctious teen fans first fell in love with 14 years ago … aside from a new wildly patterned wardrobe. As the students held their phones in the air to capture his 15-minute set, Bell performed everything from a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” to the Drake and Josh theme song “I Found A Way.”

Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

After his performance, Bell hosted a meet and greet in the school’s media room for members of the prom committee, who were able to take photos with him and ask questions about Drake and Josh. Though the seniors were about 4 years old when the show premiered, their excitement over breathing the same air as the star was palpable.

Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

“It’s so awesome to see how there’s really no demographic for the show. It doesn’t matter what age you are,” Bell told The Times. “There’s no real pop culture references. It just lasts forever. It’s not like, oh they’re talking about that thing that happened 20 years ago.”

Bell was also thrilled over the warm reception he received after stepping on stage.

“You never really know what to expect when you come to do something like this. The faculty asks and then hopefully the kids are excited about it,” he said. “You don’t want them to find out and then be like, ‘Aw man, I thought it was going to be somebody who’s famous.’”

It’s safe to say the students were wowed by Bell, but the evening was only getting started. Over the next four hours, three separate dinner seatings took place in addition to two hypnotist shows. For anyone feeling tired by this point, those feelings of fatigue were swept away with some “gym, tan, laundry” when Jersey Shore star DJ Pauly D hit the Pennsbury stage for the second year in a row.

Taking a night off from his Atlantic City residency at The Pool After Dark at Harrah’s Resort, Pauly D crafted a set especially for the class of 2018, a perfect blend of top 40 and house. At the end of his set, he filmed a high-energy selfie video with the students, which he shared on Instagram with his 2.9 million followers. It was the perfect end to an unforgettable evening. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at